Languages are crucial as they provide a channel of communication among human beings.
However, mother tongue languages are most important as they enable people to share their traditions and customs.
A mother tongue language defines a person’s background.
The national Department of Arts and Culture held an event at the Thusong Centre in Khayelitsha last Friday, February 22, to celebrate the importance of mother tongue languages. World Mother Tongue Day is usually honoured on February 21.
The event was spearheaded by the department in partnership with various stakeholders and aims to celebrate mother tongue languages.
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu was among the main guests at the event.
The gathering afforded pupils an opportunity and platform to raise critical and difficult questions about various ways of preserving mother tongue languages. However, among the main questions raised was why exam papers were written in two languages, English and Afrikaans, and not IsiXhosa.
Ms Sotyu said children who know their cultural backgrounds were able to master their own mother tongue languages.
She said everyone should promote their own language, ensure it remains alive and be proud of their heritage.
She said if collectively they did not promote their own languages no one else would do it.
Ms Sotyu said the stronger the child understands his or her mother tongue, the easier it is for them to understand other languages.
She said when parents read stories to children in their mother tongue it helps to expand the child’s vocabulary. But most importantly, she said the child develops a love for his or her mother tongue.
“We should preserve our languages. Mother tongue languages make us who we are today. We should not embrace other languages while we neglect our own languages. We should urge the youth to pursue careers that involve linguistics,” she said.
MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, said the event was aimed at celebrating and raising awareness about linguistic and cultural diversity.
But, she said, the event was also intended to promote and preserve while protecting all languages.
She said the event also seeks to collaboratively engage the youth on language issues.
Chief director at the National Language Service, Mbulelo Jokweni, said there were many myths that if one studies in their mother tongue they won’t be able to find employment.
But he said your mother tongue was critical as it keeps the cultures of various groups alive.
He said the harsh reality was that many indigenous languages face a slow demise and more was needed to keep them alive and vibrant.
He said mother tongue was important as it was the first language that a child learns.
But he said the biggest challenge was that many children could read books written in their mother tongues but were unable to understand it.
Westerford High School pupil, Emma Hutchison, said such events play an essential role in bringing children from different cultures and races together. She said this enabled them to learn more about each other’s languages and took her out of her comfort zone. She said she considers herself lucky to be at a school that teaches Isixhosa.
She said that South Africa was a diverse country that needed them as a young people to embrace this diversity with pride.